The fallout from #PlaneBae shows how voyeurism has been normalised | Arwa Mahdawi

A woman’s account of two strangers meeting on a flight went viral recently, but it was not her story to share – and those who participated ought to feel guilty about it

If a passenger on a plane reclines their seat the moment the flight takes off, it is fair to say they are a terrible person. If they get on a plane, start taking covert pictures of strangers and post said photos to social media in an attempt to create viral content, they are basically Satan’s spawn.

If you are asking: “Who would do that?” then good for you! Unlike the rest of us, you do not waste your life on the internet. However, please stand by for this short briefing on #PlaneBae: the latest example of the extent to which social media has normalised voyeurism and surveillance capitalism has infected us all.

It started last week, on a flight from New York to Dallas. Rosey Blair and her boyfriend, Houston Hardaway, were not assigned seats next to each other, so they asked Hardaway’s seatmate if she would switch places. The young woman (later christened #PrettyPlaneGirl) obliged. As it turned out, #PrettyPlaneGirl’s new neighbour was an attractive guy. They started chatting. We all know what happens when a woman and a man start talking to each other on a plane, right? They immediately fall in love!

This exciting business of two strangers talking did not go unnoticed by Blair and Hardaway, who were in the row behind. Blair spent almost the entire four-hour flight taking surreptitious photos of the unfolding “romance”, tweeting commentary such as: “She just put her head on his shoulder for like a second!!!!!!”

If I were on a plane talking to a stranger and a person behind me were taking photos, I would turn around and punch them. Actually, I wouldn’t, because violence is bad. But I would have some very strong words. Well, probably not, because confrontation is terrifying. But I would do some passive-aggressive coughing and give them a stern look.

No stern looks were had on this flight, however. Instead, two ordinary people found themselves unwittingly going viral. More than 900,000 people have liked Blair’s online recounting of the encounter so far and it has made international news. “Is this the greatest love story ever told on social media?” asked the BBC. Well, no, it isn’t; the fun and games quickly turned into a woman getting hurt. You see, the guy being photographed was dubbed #PlaneBae by the internet and lapped up the attention; he has been doing the rounds on TV shows with Blair and her boyfriend, trying to milk his 15 minutes for all it is worth. Meanwhile, #PrettyPlaneGirl chose to stay private. Or, at least, she tried; internet sleuths quickly discovered her identity. She was harassed and called a slut. She has since deleted her social media accounts. Her harassment has given pause for thought to many who initially delighted in the viral “meet cute”. On Sunday night, for example, Monica Lewinsky (just one of the high-profile people who shared the story) tweeted “an apology to #PrettyPlaneGirl”, saying it was a mistake “for me to amplify something which was an invasion of privacy, and I should have – given my history – seen it as an incident which could go pear-shaped”.Lewinsky is not the only one who should feel guilty about the way the story panned out. We all need to interrogate how we navigate this attention economy – in which technology platforms push us to go public with the minutiae of our lives and obscene oversharing is rewarded. We should remember that, sometimes, it is better to keep things to ourselves. Particularly when we are 30,000ft above ground.

Is it harder to be a generous person if you are very rich?

I hope you are sitting down, because you may find the following information shocking. Ready? OK. Well, it seems there is evidence that rich people are selfish. Hard to believe, I know.

“The vast majority of wealthy people don’t give very much to charity,” the Financial Times reported recently. Apparently, the median level of giving among “high-net-worth individuals”, which is defined as people with between £1m and £10m in investable assets, is only £500 a year. Meanwhile, people with more than £10m in liquid assets give only £240.

To combat this scourge of scrooges, some rich Britons are starting an initiative (which will likely be called the Beacon Collaborative; it was co-founded by Matthew Bowcock, a trustee of the Beacon awards, a philanthropy prize) to encourage the mega-rich to be more charitable.

Cajoling the ultra-wealthy to donate their spare cash to charity is all well and good, but it would be better, I think, if we focused on the real problem: that it is unconscionable for anyone to accrue that much money in the first place. It is difficult to accumulate millions in liquid assets in an ethical way. Many people who have acquired that much money have done so by exploiting people or avoiding their taxes. It does not matter how much you give to charity if the means undermine the ends. As Clement Attlee said: “Charity is a cold, grey, loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.”

So, please, let us not encourage the rich to think that upping their direct debit to charity absolves them of responsibility for where that money came from.

The ‘wine and eggs’ diet is no yolk

Slice boiled egg
Breakfast from the 70s (wine not pictured). Photograph: Knaupe/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Want to lose five pounds in three days and come close to killing yourself in the process? I have just the diet for you! It is the “wine and eggs” diet, which Vogue promoted in the 1970s. Breakfast is one hard-boiled egg and one glass of white wine (“dry, preferably chablis”). Lunch is more eggs, more wine and some coffee. For dinner, it is steak (“grilled with black pepper, lemon juice”) with the rest of the bottle of wine (“one bottle allowed per day”).

I would say it is unbelievable that a diet as ridiculous as this ever existed, but intermittent-fasting diets are all the rage today. So, here is some food for thought: all fad diets are stupid.


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

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